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Entries in Groundstrokes (33)


Steal This Drill: 1-up 1-back variation

We've all done this drill: one player (coach) is at the net, the other is at the baseline. The net player moves the baseline player around the baseline thereby providing him with repetition and the opportunity to work on good footwork (due to shorter reaction time). There are a few downsides to this drill including (1) the baseline player is hitting against a ball that has little topspin (i.e., unrealistic for a run-of-the-mill baseline exchange); and (2) the baseline player can get winded pretty quickly (resulting in a practice of poor quality). 

To break things up, the net player should not only move around at the net and force the player to guide the ball towards various targets but he should also try to provide the baseline player with some top-spin shots. How does one achieve this from the net? The answer is that the net player can volley into his side of the court first and then, after the ball clears the net, it strikes the court on the baseline player's side of the court as well. That is, imagine a ping-pong serve where the ball must bounce on the server's side of the court first and then on the receiver's side. This action cause the ball to pick up some topsin from the ground which is then translated into a topsin shot on the baseliner's side of the court. With some practice, the net player can master various heights, depths and spins.

In another variant, the baseline player can try to take some of these ping-pong shots out of the air (i.e., before they bounce on his side of the court) or use these shots as put-away shots. In the latter drill, the net player/coach can feed a follow-up volley. It's amazing what can be achieved with some imagination. 


Steal This Drill: Figure 8 Variation With Three Players

Here are 2 variations on the Figure 8 drill (i.e., where one player goes cross-court but another goes down the line. CAtennis.com would like to extend our appreciation to Mr. Roy Coopersmith for, once again, suggesting the following variations on this staple tennis drill. One of the issues with the Fig. 8 drill is that it seems to work best in a 1-on-1 practice. However, as evidenced by the following, one can easily incorporate the Figure 8 drill into 3-on-court workouts. 

Variant 1 (Figure 1 on the left): In this variant, Player A hits cross-court and Player B hits down the line. Player C is at the net post. The drill starts by having Player A feed. After Player B makes contact SIX (6) times, Player C jumps in Player B's spot and Player B runs to the opposite net post from where Player C was standing. Then, after Player A hits SIX (6) shots, Player B replaces Player A and Player A rushes to the net post that was originally manned by Player C. In other words, all players have the opportunity to hit TWELVE (12) shots in a row and then get a brief respite at the net. So, to summarize, the players hit and then rotate clockwise. Depending on the levels of the players, they can either hit FOUR (4) shots and move, SIX (6) shots or even EIGHT (8) shots and move. 

Variant 2 (Figure 2 on the left): In this variant, Player B is by herself and hits down the line (or cross court). Players A and C hit SIX (6) shots each and then substitute in and substitute out. This is a great drill because Player B can really focus on hammering the ball down the line (or cross court) without "feeling bad" about making her practice partners move. The two practice partners (A and C) hit only a few shots and then get a brief break so they can (or should be able to) maintain a higher intensity and better quality drill. 

What we like about these drills - particularly if the players possess different styles of play - is that all players get to "see a different ball" coming from their practice partners and have to adjust to the various shots while in the middle of the point. Accordingly, these are great drill for incorporating into a team format such as a high school or college practice. 



Steal This Drill: Offense Defense

In the fields of athletic competition, war and, sometimes, business it is often said that "the best offense is a good defense". Of course, when it comes to putting the ball away in tennis, being the master of defensive shots is often not enough. Many times, players work the point to perfection, get an easy sitter in the middle of the court and then fail to convert on the occasion. Whether they overhit, underhit or it the ball right to the opponent, these players could be well-served by practicing some offense-defense type drills. 

Here's a good and SIMPLE drill that two players (or a player and coach) can incorporate in their practice in order to develop the ability to "pop" the ball. One player (the practice partner) stays in one half of the court and simply moves the opponent (the "principal") side to side with SOFT, medium-height shots (i.e. balls should bounce above 6ft). The principal tries to thump these balls back to the practice partner with hard, penetrating shots. By performing this drill, the principal learns how to move his feet for the ball, load his body weight and also generate racket head speed. Remember that the practice partner is not generating any pace (he simply blocks the ball back - hence the "defense" in the name of the drill) so all the pace is provided by the principal. The principal goes to the point of exhaustion (up to 3 minutes is good; beyond 3 minutes it's great). Thereafter, the players switch roles so each gets a chance to dictate. Sprinkle this drill throughout your workouts and very soon you will master the put-away shot. By hitting these shots with confidence, your whole game will change. You will hit more winners (from an optimal court position); you will force the opponent to go for more on regular shots (since she knows that if she gives you the floater you will put the ball away); and you will develop a more aggressive instinct.


Practice Awkward Shots

In general, professional men are far more skilled on the court than professional women.  No situation seems too foreign and the racket skills are impeccable when called upon to get themselves out of a jam.  Hitting awkward shots from obscure positions in the court is a very real skill.  There can be a wide variety of factors for this, obviously the athleticism and testosterone necessary to propel a unique combination of strength and uncanniness to work together in these rare situations.  But why is it that some players are better at it than others?  Henine, Schiavone, Niculescu for modern day women.  Almost all the men have a high proficiency of caginess, but most notably uncanny are Dolgopolov, Santoro, Tomic, Federer, Djokovic to name a few.  

If some women can do it, but almost all men are cagey with their racket skills- why is that?  One conclusion is men simply practice awkward shots more than women.  Men love to play mini-tennis, practice on the wall, try goofy shots, slice on purpose, try tweeners, dropshots, high backhand volleys, topspin dive volleys, the list goes on.  Dirk Notitzki, the German NBA superstar who led his Dallas Mavericks to the NBA Championship last year adamantly practices weird shots- he makes a point of it.  

"Nowitzki's unusual talent is a rare marriage of athleticism, improvisation and height. His personal shooting coach, Holger Geschwindner, said last week that Nowitzki has had the ability to shoot from one leg since he was 16. Nowitzki practices the shots at least twice a day: once at the end of practice, where teammate Corey Brewer sees Nowitzki go through a whole routine of spin moves and simulated awkwardness, and again around 7 p.m. when teammate Brian Cardinal says he has seen Nowitzki practice an array of wacky shots in every spot on the court." -Wall Street Journal

From a young age, practice being different.  Time is on your side.  Certain coaches can be very limiting in creativity in style, almost being too vanilla and dogmatic.  Sure their is always a place for consistency and discipline, but balance that with creative skills- all areas of the court.  Here is a list of some shots to practice:


  • Touch volleys off any type of passing shot
  • High backhand volleys (angle cc and slow or down-the-line controlled)
  • Slice on the run dink pass
  • Severe defense lob to the moon
  • Kick serves from doubles alley on ad
  • Slice serves from doubles alley on deuce
  • Tweeners
  • Learn to sell the dropshot by changing grip mid-swing
  • Learn to sell the dropshot by moving forward as if approaching
  • Slice forehands
  • Block forehands
  • Volleying from no-mans land
  • Volleying between your legs
  • Serving underhand with sideways slice
  • Using different grips to hit forehands
  • Using different grips to hit serves
  • Using different grips to hit different types of slices and dropshots
  • Hitting balls from 15 ft behind baseline
  • Hitting balls from the doubles alley
  • Screw CCs, can you hit down-the-line off tough balls controlled
  • Slice inside-out spin DTL
  • Changing speeds and heights of ball, switching gears from shot to shot


There are an endless amount of awkward shots to be practiced, so what are you waiting for?  Go make your practices fun and beneficial- but remember, the ball always has to go in the court at the end of the day.  Put in that time.  


Steal This Drill: Grab a Bench for Better Depth

Again, much gratitude is due to Roy Coopersmith for suggesting the following drill. The purpose of this drill is to improve the depth of one's groundstrokes. One way to do this would be to place a broomstick or PVC pipe through, or, conversely, an Airzone Training System over the net. This forces the player to aim considerably higher than the net thereby increasing the player's margin for error in a match.

However, one problem with relying strictly on an above-the-net device is that players tend to limit their shots to height while not improving their depth. In other words, there's a risk that the player will develop high, loopy shots that bounce mid-court (and can be easy sitters for the opponent). The goal for a tennis player is to hit high over the net but to also have deep, penetrating shots that put the opponent in a defensive position (or, at least, a position from which they are unable to hurt you). As previously discussed, one of the main strategies in tennis is to hit the ball deep in order to (a) put the opponent in a defensive position and force him to expend his own energy to give pace to the ball; (b) cut down on the angles that he may be able to hit; and (c) put yurself in the best position to control time and space. In order to develop depth, it's not enough to hit the ball high or hard; it's finding the middle ground where you're staying away from the net but also hitting just inside the baseline.

You can develop this comfort zone my placing a plastic bench (chair or pee-wee tennis net) on or around the practice partner's service line (or on both sides of the court - for both players to practice). The players will then rally (baseline points) OVER the net as well as the bench. This simple exercise forces the players to hit not only high, but penetrating shots that explode off the court. Once the players master this drill, they can alternate rallies where one player hits 5-10 deep shots and then a short angle. Doing so would teach the players how to be flexible with their thinking: push the opponent deep; then yank her side-to-side with sharp angles.